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Liberty heads to Rustburg

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By Mike Forster

The Minutemen have a chance to get healthy this Friday night. Their game against Rustburg, however, might not be as cathartic as was anticipated when the schedules were first set.

The Red Devils have been playing inspired football since their shaky start.

As a consequence, they find themselves well in the hunt for an invitation to the Division 3 playoffs.

While the Minutemen have prevailed in seven of the previous eight meetings between the teams, the last couple of years have provided nailbiters.

Two years ago, the Rusties won 15-14, a victory that effectively knocked the Minutemen from the playoff running.

Last year, at Liberty, the Minutemen squeezed out a 21-13 win, fending off a furious Rustburg second-half rally to preserve the win. Had the Minutemen lost that one, they’d have effectively out of the playoff quest.

This year, under first-year Head Coach Jon Berlin, Rustburg has already improved over last season’s 1-9 mark.

While the team is winless in the Seminole, it has notched up impressive wins over Hidden Valley and Alleghany.

The Rusties could easily be standing at 5-3 instead of at their current 2-6.

They lost their season-opener to Heritage, 7-6 and a mid-season non-District game to Halifax 21-20.

Additionally, Rustburg had three chances to steal a win against Jefferson Forest last weekend (see article, B1).

Even with all of that, the Rusties have legitimate playoff aspirations. They currently stand tied for the sixth (with Lord Botetourt), and final, playoff berth in the Region III, Division 3 playoff hunt.

It appears that the Devils will be vying with Stuarts Draft, LB and Alleghany for that last slot.

LB and Alleghany face each other this Friday. Then LB has Northside while the Mountaineers have Byrd.

Stuarts Draft still has lightly regarded Ft. Defiance and Div. 4 powerhouse Rockbridge ahead (i.e., Stuarts Draft is a sure bet to make it).

So, to avoid any ugly tie-breakers, Rustburg would be well served to win its final games, with Liberty and Staunton River.

That outcome is certainly a possibility, given the way the Red Devils are equipped.

“Rustburg is a good football team,” said Liberty Head Coach Chris Watts. “You cannot take them lightly.”

Watts continued, “They’re experienced kids, they have speed and they match up well with just about anybody.”

That speed comes primarily in the form of quarterback Tevin Cobbs, halfback Javon Campbell and all-around player E.J. Sparrow.

The Devils like to run a quick-hitting option, with Campbell popping the center-guard hole.

Cobbs is deft and deceptive in running the option. He makes quick, and often accurate, reads. He uses his diminutive stature (5’ 8”) to his advantage as he is able to hide the ball quite well.

On defense, Bryson Lipscomb, Seth Bussert, Matt Harris and Jake Gage seem to lead the unit from their linebacker slots.

Tim Hardy is a big fellow on the defensive line, cut in the fashion of Liberty’s Brandon Sparrow and equally aggressive.

Desmone and Tevin Cobbs, along with E.J. Sparrow provide sound pass coverage.

Key actions by Liberty

-Do NOT take Rustburg lightly. Watts is showing his charges film of the Red Devils. Some Minutemen saw the Rustburg-JF game. If any Liberty player doesn’t realized that Rustburg is good, he isn’t paying attention.

-Solidify containment on the outside. Quarterback Cobbs loves to turn the corner on the option. If you let him get outside of you, he’s gone.

-Protect the Liberty quarterback. Rustburg showed a solid pass rush against an excellent Forest offensive line.

-Minimize mistakes. The Red Devils’ scoring against JF came exclusively by exploiting Forest errors--an interception and a kickoff returned for touchdowns.